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Advocates in West Virginia discuss ‘For the People Act of 2021’

Proposed federal election/voter legislation outlined at media event in Charleston, W.Va.

West Virginia Press Report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — What do you know about the “For the People Act of 2021”?

Officially, it’s a piece of federal legislation addressing a wide range of issues related to elections and voting. It has passed the U.S. House of Representative as “H.R. 1” and is now up for U.S. Senate consideration as “S. 1.”

This week a group of advocates in West Virginia, including state Democrats and representatives of state labor organizations, hosted a press conference to draw attention to the legislation and encourage U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to support it.

Delegate Jim Barach

Led by West Virginia Delegate Jim Barach, D-Kanawha, the press conference Tuesday at Harding’s Family Restaurant in Charleston featured former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, with several labor leaders in attendance: George Capel, Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia; Josh Sword, AFL-CIO of West Virginia; Elaine Harris, Communications Workers of America; Dale Lee, West Virginia Education Association; Fred Albert, American Federation of Teachers; and others.

On its website, the U.S. House of Representatives offers this summary explanation of “For the People Act of 2021”:

  • This bill addresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government.
  • Specifically, the bill expands voter registration (automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (vote-by-mail and early voting). It also limits removing voters from voter rolls.
  • The bill requires states to establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting.
  • Additionally, the bill sets forth provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence information with state election officials, supporting states in securing their election systems, developing a national strategy to protect U.S. democratic institutions, establishing in the legislative branch the National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions, and other provisions to improve the cybersecurity of election systems.
  • Further, the bill addresses campaign finance, including by expanding the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals, requiring additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, requiring additional disclaimers regarding certain political advertising, and establishing an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices.
  • The bill addresses ethics in all three branches of government, including by requiring a code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices, prohibiting Members of the House from serving on the board of a for-profit entity, and establishing additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House.
  • The bill requires the President, the Vice President, and certain candidates for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns.

Barach said the legislation would protect voting rights for all eligible Americans and should have bipartisan support, but it does not. He said there is a very partisan reason: “The answer is there are political forces who want to prevent people from voting so their side can win. S1 passed the House 220-210 mostly along party lines and will only make it through the Senate with reconciliation or by removing the filibuster.”

On the national level, in opposition to the act, the Republican National Committee, as reported by Fox News, has said,  “H.R. 1 is nothing short of a hostile takeover by Democrats to federalize our state and local elections. …. All Americans should be alarmed by this power grab.” 

Barach said Republicans are making false claims of voter fraud and election security issues to support their efforts to implement restrictive voter laws in many states, including Georgia and Arizona.

West Virginia Delegate Jim Barach, D-Kanawha

Tuesday, Tennant said federalizing elections is a false claim. She said legislation such as the “For the People Act of 2021” actually empowers the states and the voters, adding, “…That is the farthest from the truth.”

Barach said the “For the People Act of 2021” would establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting and avoid  gerrymandering.

Former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant

Both Tennant and Barach compared the “For the People Act of 2021” to other landmark voter rights legislation in U.S. history:

  • 14th Amendment addressed the rights of citizens 
  • 15th Amendment eliminated racial barriers at the polls
  • 19th Amendment brought women into the voting booths
  • Civil Rights Act stated all men and women 21 and older could vote
  • 24th Amendment addressed Jim Crow laws with the elimination of poll taxes
  • Voting Rights Act suspended literacy tests and put registration and voting rights under federal enforcement
  • 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18
  • National Voter Registration Act required States offer voter registration opportunities at State motor vehicle agencies
  • Help America Vote Act created minimum standards for states to follow in several key areas of election administration
George Capel, Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia

Labor leaders in attendance Tuesday, led by Capel’s presentation, focused on “dark money,” the political campaign contributions that allow groups to keep donor information secret, thereby hiding the identity of who is funding the campaigns. They also noted the act would tighten restrictions on “Super Pac-Candidate Coordination,”  which is the illegal practice of planned spending by the Super Pac and candidate.

“Public faith is at an all-time low … in the basic concept of ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people…,” said one presenter.

Elaine Harris, Communications Workers of America

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